My Advice for Dealing with Anxiety (Social, Disorder or Otherwise)
Table of Contents
First, a quick primer to anxiety itself – it is actually an important human feature which evolution perfected over many millennia. Humans (just like animals) needed to be able to elevate themselves above their normal “calm” state to “energized” state, boosting every function of the body to fight for survival. However seldom in modern society are you faced with real threats of this nature, nor will it help you to climb the nearest tree with just your bare hands in order to survive.
(Bad) Example #
In fact, in modern society it turns out that key to success and survival (and thriving) is reacting Intelligently to any perceived external threat. Here are some modern examples:
You realize that you forgot the car key inside the car which you just locked – while climbing on top of the car and screaming is natural first reaction of your brain, actually staying calm and figuring out where is the backup key or how to get locksmith there faster, is what will really get you out of that predicament
In the middle of critical presentation to 20 important people from your company, someone points out that your solution is totally flawed due to incorrect key assumption you made. Again, brain tries to help you by getting you ready to run away from the room and hide in the closet somewhere. However, channeling that anxiety into “tweaking your solution on the spot and presenting even better approach” is the key to winning that day, and in rest of your career.
Even if indeed you are in an ally and staring at a barrel of a gun of someone demanding your money, running or fighting is only likely to get you killed. Again staying calm under pressure is what will get you out of that situation alive.
Fight Back #
But how do we fight this core response of our subconscious brain? Here are several tips that help me and other people, so I decided to collect them here for everyone’s benefit:
Often anxiety elevation is ongoing for people, which actually prevents Frontal Lobe from kicking in to Override this primordial response system. For that, start with Meditation – to help your brain return control to the Frontal Lobe. Start with quick Beginners 5 min intro and then later explore more in-depth techniques. If you had prolonged anxiety, try transitioning directly from meditation into some simple fun – like watching comedy or sitcom, listening to relaxing music, etc. You need to “retrain your brain” to recognize that there is a normal “relaxed” state, which is different from your “anxious” state. Deep breaths and various breathing exercises are a good quick fix to try and keep anxiety levels in check when it starts coming back.
Now, even with your Frontal Lobe functioning, most likely it will successfully return you to “high anxiety” state pretty quickly. There are few mechanisms at work here, biggest one being Confirmation Bias. What that means is that your brain is actually Looking for things and Interpretations to Explain your anxiety state, which of course leads to Further elevation in Anxiety. This never-ending Cycle is the big killer, so here I revert to my computer programming training and .BREAK THE LOOP. This is probably the trickiest part, so some sub-bullets are in order:
- Recognize that most of the “bad outcomes” that your brain projects for events are totally unlikely and even try to think of them as “funny”. For example: “why the heck would they ever arrest someone for filing taxes late or filing with mistakes, the prison is really just for violent criminals.”
- Track down “the culprit” – often it is lack of clarity as to what is expected of you, or “how to succeed”. Solution to both is usually simple, track down each expectation and write it down (digitally or on paper) the minute you identify it. Make it a habit and that way you will always know that “Everything needed is tracked, so no need to speculate about ‘what am I forgetting’”.
- For Social Anxiety – Focus on recognizing that other people around you are also Children who just landed in older bodies. Even people in a position of power were children not so long ago and now really just “play the part” because society is asking them to, but inside they are often just as anxious as the rest of us. Focus on inner child in everyone, it is definitely still there, and often ignoring the current “outfit” of that person and looking straight in their face to find that “inner child” is the best way.
- Try scientific approach – challenge your brain to come up with fully experimental and non-anecdotal proof. For example: “what studies were done to establish beyond all doubt that indeed your own beauty is below norm in any way, or that it even matters right now”.
- Gather inner strength to attack “bad thoughts” by recognizing that only by fighting them you can survive (yea, twist the survival instinct on it’s head). Focus on winning small immediate battles, but also develop longer term Dream that will lend you strength to work towards. It can be something as simple as “to present to large crowd easily”, or as elaborate as “travel into space”.
- Build up Self-Image – that really helps over long term to ignore what other people may try to say and to give you inner strength to act with confidence. Recognize that this takes time, but constantly keep this important in mind and work tirelessly toward this goal.
- Hang out with family and friends as much as possible – and give out lots of hugs. It’s amazingly relaxing to hug things out, if you haven’t yet discovered…
- Practice calming yourself and eliminating your worries Before going to bed. That way while your frontal lobe rests, your subconscious won’t be flooding your body with anxiety totally unchecked. Focus on seeing the next day as “Solution for All Problems “. Even if sometimes it is unrealistic tell yourself before bed that you may “Win the Lottery” (or equivalent) the next day, so always look forward to it.
Recognize that you need to take care of Yourself first. Just like on the plane they always tell you to Put On Your Own Mask before putting on mask for your child, same principle applies to your life. You Must Be in your best shape to be able to help others and contribute to society. Focus on getting Proper Nutrition on consistent daily schedule.
Ready to read some more on this, try this excellent Wikipedia take on Emotional Self-Regulation. There are also several books on this (which admittedly I didn’t read yet).
If you aren’t making progress, try some modern Online CBT. I know of one that is not-free, but something you can instantly access and do in total privacy of your home.
Remember that high anxiety state is directly detrimental to your health! Your body can only last so much in that “adrenaline pumped state”, before things start creaking under pressure, or worse. Identify this and actively fight it – if nothing here helps, go seek further help – there are medicines today that are not addictive.
Try to get yourself calm enough to watch 1h:16m video, it will give you strength to act with even more confidence in the future: Randy Pausch Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams